We’ve an ace up our sleeve on the Costa del Sol. Palacio Solecio, an 18th-century Andalusian palace shuffled away in the narrow alleys of Málaga’s old town, was once home to the boss of the Real Fábrica de Naipes (factory of playing cards). And it delivers style in spades, with architect Antonio Obrador restoring parts of the original double-arched zaguán courtyards and great staircase. The nearby Picasso Museum is spearheading Málaga’s burgeoning art scene, and there are Roman amphitheatres and Arabic baths to seek out, too. Expect this to be one very full house.
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A glass of local wine – your choice of red or white – each at the bar
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm, also flexible.
Double rooms from £182.90 (€211), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast.
The architect Antonio Obrador performed a deep investigation into the interiors of Andalusian mansions, limiting his palette to the very specific style of 1789 (when the palace was built). Particularly striking is the restored sun mural above the courtyard’s central balcony, a nod to former owner Félix Solecio’s coat of arms. Solecio was Italian and came to Málaga from Genoa – a journey that Picasso’s Genoese great-grandfather would take some 50 years later.
At the hotel
Gym, meeting rooms, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: air-conditioning, a TV, workspace, minibar and Per Purr bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Corner rooms have huge windows overlooking the surrounding narrow alleyways, but for a blow-out it has to be the exceptionally private Tower room on the hotel’s top floor. The 360-degree view of the whole city, including its cathedral and ancient marketplace, is a dealbreaker.
Comfy shoes: there are endless cobbled lanes and gallery spaces you’ll want to tread during your trip.
The lobby and restaurant are at ground level and very accessible, and one of the double rooms has been adapted for wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome, but this city-centre boutique stay is certainly more adult-oriented than family-friendly. Extra cots can be added to rooms on request and there are highchairs in the restaurant.
The hotel strives to be water and energy efficient, limits the use of plastics and uses greener cleaning products where possible. Most of the produce is locally sourced and purchased on demand, which reduces food waste.
The tables under the courtyard’s arches are more intimate, especially when candlelit after dark.
This is a relaxed, informal space: dress only to impress the ones you’re with.
The menu at Balausta reflects the hotel’s meticulous attention to period detail. Its Andalusian cuisine is overseen by Michelin-starred chef José Carlos Garcia, and is served in the archways or under the glass roof of the inner courtyard. The finely tuned tapas only adds to the romance of the setting – don’t miss the beef croquetas or the potato salad with prawns and caviar. For breakfast, expect a buffet of pastries, cold meats, fresh juices, coffee, eggs cooked to order and plenty of healthy options.
Just off the main courtyard in a low-lit corner of the hotel is the inviting Balausta bar, serving an expertly curated collection of cocktails, wine and sherry (an Andalusian specialty). Large windows mean it’s light during the day, but the space becomes tremendously cosy come nighttime.
Lunch is 1pm–4pm; snacks, 11am–1pm and 4pm–7:30pm; and dinner is served up 8pm–11pm. Balausta bar is open from noon until midnight.
A shortened version of the Balausta menu is available for room service, including Andalusian twists on the hamburger and sandwich, as well as more extensive dishes.
Palacio Solecio is on the pedestrianised Calle Granada in Málaga’s historic old town.
Spain’s fourth busiest international hub, Málaga Airport, is 10 kilometres away, about a 20-minute drive. One-way transfers can be arranged by the hotel for €35.
The nearest train station to the hotel is María Zambrano, about a kilometre away. It’s connected to Málaga Airport (30 minutes), Sevilla (two hours, 30 minutes) and Madrid (two hours, 30 minutes). It’s about 10 minutes by taxi from the station to Palacio Solecio.
Although there’s parking nearby (€29 a day), Málaga lends itself to exploration on foot – especially with a hotel as centrally located as this.
Worth getting out of bed for
‘Gateway to the Costa del Sol’ used to be shorthand for ‘don’t bother sticking around too long in Málaga’, but with a progressive mayor pumping millions into the arts (the city’s other famous son, Antonio Banderas, has opened a theatre here) and a blossoming gastronomic scene, change is very much afoot in the historic city where Picasso spent his formative first 10 years.
Soho’s edgy bar and tapas scene attracts a creative crowd in an area that’s becoming known for its street art, too. Muello Uno is a more upmarket, harbourside district for shopping and dining (with some top sunset spots), while Pedragalejo is where the locals go: a traditional fishing neighbourhood that’s been transformed into a vibrant nightspot-by-the-sea with plenty of bars and restaurants. The food market Atarazanas has an original Moorish façade from the 14th century, and is included in many ‘world’s best markets’ lists.
Don’t miss the permanent collection at the Picasso Museum, where the artist’s life and works are meticulously laid out, as well as its well-curated temporary exhibitions. And finally, the hotel may not have a spa, but a stroll away is the Hammam Al Andalus, Moorish-style baths whose well-trained masseurs have the know-how (and upper-arm strength) to unknot the tightest of muscles.
Cafe Con Libros is a popular local café that stocks an extensive range of international newspapers. KGB takes a playful approach to international cuisine – the secret is out about its famous oxtail burger with Havarti cheese. Flamenco is a folkloric art form that some Malagueños insist should be performed at mealtimes. If that’s your bag, then El Pimpi is one of the hottest spots. For the city’s top tapas, we recommend the cod taco confit at El Meson de Cervantes or, for gastronomic greatness in unfussy surrounds, try Kaleja.
The Pharmacy is a speakeasy dosing out mirthful ‘liquid prescriptions’ (Krypton: Tanqueray, Green Chartreuse and Kaffir lime soda) to a down-to-earth crowd, while La Fábrica showcases southern Spain’s finest craft beers. La Terraza de la Alcazaba, La Terraza de San Juan, and La Terraza de Chinitas are three rooftop bars set above hostels at the more stylish end of the spectrum where young, hip Malagueños hang out until late.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in Málaga and unpacked their jars of gazpachuelo malagueño, a full account of their holiday on the Costa del Sol will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Palacio Solecio…
An Italian papermaker, the Wild West and thousands of Malagueño mulberry trees…these are the ingredients that led to the creation, in 1789, of Palacio Marqués de la Sonora – the present-day Palacio Solecio. The eponymous Félix Solecio was a Genoan papermaker commissioned by Charles III to supply the emerging American frontier with Spain’s finest packs of playing cards (fashioned from the pulp of Málaga’s multitudinous mulberry trees). Architect Antonio Obrador has followed suit with his exceptional restoration, though you’ll find modern touches throughout to complement this forward-thinking city. For Málaga is fast becoming Spain’s wunderkind, with an edgy art scene and a swathe of next-gen tapas bars and nightclubs in which to flex your cultural muscles. So, if you thought Málaga wasn’t fit for your wishlist, think again.